The session: organic beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session is hosted by the Beer Activist blog, and features organic beer. Chris O’Brien asks everyone to publish a post related to organic beer and even allows us to decide what counts as organic — handy, as we’ve never really understood the rules in the UK!

We have to say that we’ve been somewhat sceptical about organic beer to date. We’re reasonably open to the idea of organic food, especially as it often (although not always!) means small-scale, local production with a bit more care for the quality of the product. But we don’t always buy organic, because there are other factors that are more important to us, like food miles. This is particularly relevant for beer, because there is an extremely limited supply of organic hops in the UK, and we know that at least one brewer imports their hops from New Zealand.

organic2.jpgAnd unlike with some products, like meat and cheese, where there is generally a discernably difference in quality, we can’t say we’ve ever noticed that organic hops or malt make for a more flavoursome beer. It’s not that organic beer is bad, it’s just that it’s rarely as special as you think it ought to be. The Beer Nut summarised it really well, when he said:

“…brewers seem content with their Soil Association certificate as a selling point rather than putting the graft into the flavour”

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24-hour licensing evaluated

licensing2.jpgLots of stuff in the news today about the publication of a Government report investigating the impact of “24-hour licensing”. See here for a sample of reactions to the report on the Beeb.

Bit of background for readers not used to our crazy First World War licensing laws. Basically, up until November 2005, standard pub opening was until 11:20, with last drinks served at 11:00. A dinky little bell would ring warning you about last orders, prompting a Pavlovian response in most Brits to rush to the bar and get another round in. Yes, pubs could get late licences, but most didn’t. You’d all get turfed onto the street at 11:20, which may or may not be the root of the British “pint and a fight = great night” ethos.

Now, in the brave new era of 24-hour licensing, it’s all changed.  Or has it? The vast majority of pubs still open exactly as they used to, or perhaps extend the opening time to midnight at the weekends.

“Fewer than 4% of premises (5,100) have applied for round-the-clock pub opening – and many that have are hotels, stores and supermarkets.

Only 470 pubs, bars and nightclubs are open 24 hours and the average closing time across all licensed premises has got just 21 minutes later.” [BBC]

Critics predicted waves of violent crime and rivers of vomit, the thinking being that the only thing preventing the Brits lapsing into barbarity was the time limit on drinking. Optimists hoped that the legislation would bring in “continental style drinking”, i.e. you would no longer feel the need to drink so quickly, which would in turn lead us to consume more responsibly and over a longer period in the evening (and not get into fights on the way home).

And so along comes this report, saying that not a lot has changed. To quote the summary:

“Its introduction [24hour licensing] has not led to the widespread problems some feared. Overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down. But alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder”

So it appears that the people who were getting into fights between 11:30 and midnight are now getting into fights at three in the morning. But other than that, there has been no noticeable impact on our pub culture or drinking habits.

Not that this stops the more hysterical parts of our press, who have focussed in the spike in violence between 3am and 6am as proof the policy has failed.

The full report can be downloaded hereTandleman covers the story here.

I decided to follow suit with the tabloids and illustrate this story with a shock horror picture of a Brit bingeing.  Aren’t you shocked?  Go on, be shocked.


Waiter service in pubs

waiter.jpgWaiter service in bars is one of those things you often hear British people complain about when they come back from holiday.

Queuing at the bar is so ingrained in our culture that the idea of a bloke in an apron bringing our drink (and expecting to be bloody tipped for it, too, cheeky sod…) is almost as upsetting as having to use a funny foreign toilet.

But we’d like to see a bit more waiter service in Britain, now. More and more, we’re put off going to particular pubs because we know we’ll have to stand in a crowd for what feels like 30 minutes, craning our necks, hoping to catch the eye of a barman. How much more civilised to pay a measly tip for the privilege of sitting on one’s behind while fresh glasses of tasty beer are brought to your table.

This would also save us the sight of tourists in England sitting glumly waiting to be served, too. And, vice versa, standardising across Europe would save your continentals from having to watch British people whispering awkwardly near the door:

“I can’t tell if it’s waiter service. Should we go up and order? Maybe we should go up. That looks like a bar. Oh, but look, they’re getting served at the table. Shall we go up?”

“No, Brian. That would be a breach of etiquette, and then they’ll kill us or, worse, laugh at us. Let’s just go back to the hotel and drink from the mini-bar for the next week until the holiday is over.”


Picture by independentman, under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.

One reason for the decline of mild..?

dad_ipa.jpgHere’s my Dad enjoying a glass of our IPA. He and my Mum used to run a pub in Exeter. Last night, they told us about a popular belief in the 1970s and 80s that mild was “the slops”, which might have been part of the reason for its disappearance from many pubs. My Dad:

“Jack the Rat was one of our customers — he used to wear a flat cap and had a beard like Catweazel. We once suggested to him that he should try a pint of Whitbread mild and he turned it down because he thought it was a barrel made up of the slops from the drip trays at the bar.

“It actually was common for landlords to keep all that surplus and serve it up to customers as ‘mild’. We used to get our Whitbread Mild from the brewery at Tiverton [formerly Starkey, Knight and Ford]. By that time, demand for mild was so low we could only get one ten gallon imperial firkin at a time, so ours was always fresh. Jack the Rat tried it and never drank anything else again after that.

“I used to go Tiverton for a new firkin twice a week, and it was getting more popular with our customers, but by then it was a bit late — the brewery wasn’t pushing it and it was just out of fashion generally. I’ve seen more mild on tap recently, but for twenty years, I hardly saw any. Shame.”

So, a perception that mild was poor quality beer, partly based on fact, was one reason why people stopped drinking it, and why the supply began to dry up.


Disclaimer: any resemblance between my Dad and the man from the Sam Smith’s Alpine Lager pump is purely coincidental and does not represent a trademark infringement.